Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: Here I Come! {OLW & Nerdlution)

On the eve of this new year, I am looking forward to the experiences, challenges, and opportunities that are ahead.  2014 was a wonderful year -- my best yet! -- and I know 2015 will be even more amazing!

I used to be one for making lots of new year's resolutions...lose weight, watch less TV, be kinder, blah, blah, blah....You know how that goes.  Come January 15, I have completely forgotten (or chosen to ignore) my resolutions and I'm back to my old ways.

Then last year, I discovered the power of adopting just one word to guide my entire year, instead of making a million resolutions.  This one word is so powerful, so easy to follow, and it took me to amazing places last year.

For 2015, I have a new word:
If you'd like to use my button for your own OLW, here it is.  Feel free to copy it and use it.
Now, while I no longer make resolutions, I cannot resist being a part of #Nerdlution2015, thanks to Colby Sharp and the amazing people at the Nerdy Book Club.
nerdlution (1)
I'll admit it, this past year one of my most exciting discoveries was that I, indeed, was a nerd.  Nerds have over-the-top passion and excitement for something.  For me, that turned out to be books and teaching my 4th graders. (I am not alone though...I am finding many "nerd friends" that have been hiding out at my school, just waiting to share their nerdiness with others.  :)

As part of #Nerdlution2015, I pledge to write every day for the next 50 days.  This may be working on a story, writing in my journal, or blogging, but I will produce some kind of writing every day.


I've said it.

What will you be nerdy about in 2015?  Join the #Nerdlution!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I've Moved Forward {SOL 12-30-14}

Thank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly Slice of Life gathering.  It is an amazing opportunity for reflection and connection!

2014 was the year I gave up making resolutions.  Thanks to the book, One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, and various friends around the blogosphere who were doing the same, I chose just one little word as my guiding mantra for 2014 -- FORWARD.

As 2014 draws to a close, I reflect on my OLW and how much it has helped me move forward.

Here are some ways I moved forward in 2014:

* I moved my writing forward.  I wrote on a more regular basis which, while it's not yet where I want it to be, is farther than it's ever been.

* I moved my teaching forward.  My classroom is now a place where questions are asked, mistakes are made, and risks are taken.  We embrace a growth mindset and find power in the word YET. This teaching style is so foreign to me, yet so fun! I'm excited to see where it takes us.

* I moved my learning forward.  Whether it be learning about Genius Hour, the growth mindset, or improving my reading and writing instruction, I learned a lot this year!  Twitter has really helped with this too.

* I moved my health forward.  I began exercising on a (somewhat) regular basis.

* I took steps out of my comfort zone.  Attending All Write 14 in Indiana all by myself, driving four hours alone, knowing no one, was a big step for me.  It was worth it and I am looking forward to going back again (but this time I won't be alone because of all the wonderful people I met there).

2014 was a wonderful year!

Monday, December 29, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading {12-29-14}

Thanks to Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee from Unleashing Readers for hosting this weekly reading check in.  It is my first check in in a long time (maybe ever???).
This winter break has really helped me reconnect with my reader-self.  One of my goals for 2015 is to read more kid lit.  With amazing book talks flying around on Twitter and in the blogosphere, I know I will be in good hands.

Here's what I've been reading:
A fun story of a young girl who struggles to fit in because she moves around a lot with her mom.  Finally, she and her mom end up living with her uncle and she finds the stability and home that she so desperately wanted.  Through all of this, she uses her writer's notebook as a source of strength and connection as she finally makes a friend in her new home.  This would be a great story to share with a student who is shy and looking for a way to connect with others.
After hearing all the buzz about this book on Twitter, I finally finished it last week.  I love that it is a graphic novel (my first one!) and is a story to perseverance and imagination.  Although there are some things I wish the author would have left out of this book, knowing that children would read it (teachers smoking in the lounge...), I do recognize that it is autobiographical and those things probably did happen back in the 70's and 80's.
Who knew there were so many jobs done by the simple feather?  This is an amazing informational text, packed with fun facts and tidbits.  I know my students will enjoy this one!

This week, I am hooked, hooked, hooked on this book:
There is a lot of award talk going on about this book and I can see why!  I will finish it soon and post next week.

My other goals for break are to read:

Ambitious, I know, but I do have a new goal to work on!  Wish me luck!

What are you reading?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Celebrate this Week {12-27-14}

It's been a long time since I've linked up with Ruth Ayres for to celebrate the week.  I'm glad to be here today!
This week, I am celebrating:
* My sister and her family were here for the past week from Dallas.  Wow, did time fly!  I'm glad I got to spend some one-on-one time with my niece and nephew who are growing up so quickly.  On Monday, we went to Chuck E. Cheese for some pizza and fun games.  
Then we spent the afternoon completing some "Top Secret" crafting projects which were gifts for the family.  My nephew said to me, "Auntie, I love doing this.  I remember last year we painted coasters."  I'm celebrating the memories we made.

* Books....lots of books.  My family knew just what to get me for Christmas.
So far, I have also finished El Deafo, A Long Walk to Water, Wonderstruck, and Hound Dog True.  I am currently working on The Night Gardener...Oh. My. Goodness...Amazing!

*This short break from the craziness of life that is school.  I truly love my class this year and enjoy the new things we are doing, but the break is doing me good.  It gives me a chance to live life horizontally instead of vertically for awhile, without rush and deadlines.

* Speaking of horizontal living, I am also celebrating naps.  Love them!

What are you celebrating this week?  Head on over to Ruth's blog and share. 

Have a wonderful week!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Generosity {SOL 12-23-14}

My daughter, Kara, works part time doing chores at a horse farm near our home.  She makes about $15 (less taxes) for an afternoon's work.  

This summer, my husband and I decided it was time for Kara to get her first checking account.  Kara has always been someone who struggles with money management so we were hoping that this would help.  She opened her account with about $700 -- quite impressive!

Last weekend, Kara and I were at the bank to deposit one of her checks.  While we were there, the teller asked us if we wanted to know the balance in Kara's account.  Over the six months Kara had her new account, the balance had fallen to just $331, including the $148 she had just deposited. 

I was shocked.  Kara was shocked too.

We had the teller print out a statement of her withdrawls  which showed a regular stream of charges at McDonalds, Walgreens, Target, and Sentry.  Not big charges, just charges about the size of an after school snack, a morning donut,  or a new set of earbuds for her iPod.

This began my Mom Lecture about saving money. Blah, blah, blah.  Kara promised she would do better and would build her account balance back up.

I know she felt bad.  

I know this was a learning experience for her.

I know that my husband and I should have been watching this closer.

I felt bad too.

Kara & I went on with our day which included about six stops at various stores to get holiday gifts. One of our stops included a trip to Hobby Lobby.  I grabbed the holiday essentials I needed, and we left for home. I was tired.  The morning of stop and go, along with our conversation about spending money had worn me out.

As Kara and I walked out of Hobby Lobby, we walked past a Salvation Army bell ringer.  My arms full of bags, I passed by.  

Kara did not.

"Mom, wait," Kara said, and reached in her purse for her wallet.  Opening her wallet, she took out a dollar bill and put it in the red kettle.

"Bless you," the bell ringer said.

It was good that I had my sunglasses on, because my eyes filled with tears.  

That morning my daughter taught me an important lesson about how important it is to take care of others...even if your mom had just lectured you about saving money.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Light Goes On -- #ReflectiveTeacher Blog Challenge Day 8

Today's Topic:  Share a memorable moment in the classroom and how it reminded you about why you love what you do.


That's how I've felt in my classroom for the past several years.

I taught what I needed to teach.  I covered the curriculum.  I assessed what students were supposed to learn.

Notice all the"I's" in that last paragraph?

That's what I felt so unsettled about...My classroom was a top-down, teacher-directed, you-must-learn-this place.

Students had very little voice, very little investment in pushing themselves forward as learners, very little control of their learning day.

But that is changing.

Now, we talk a lot about growth mindset, metacognition and learning choices.  These are big words for 4th graders, but they get it.


Because my students are being given the opportunity to take control of their learning in ways they (or I) have never done before.

We now are constantly thinking about our thinking (metacognition) and recognizing when we "get it" and when we don't.  And when we don't get it, we do something about it.  We ask for help, We go back and work the problem out again.

We don't give up.

Yesterday, I gave a math test in my classroom.  We have been studying multiplication for the past four weeks and we were at the point that it was time to take the paper assessment and move on.

I handed out the test.  Forty-five minutes later, many of my students were still working. They were taking their time.  They were checking their work.  They were making sure that they demonstrated their learning in the best way they could on this paper assessment.

Three weeks ago, this probably wouldn't have happened.

Three weeks ago, the students would be answering this test for me, not for themselves.

Three weeks ago, these students would probably look at their test scores, shrug their shoulders if they didn't receive a high grade, and stuff their paper in their desk.

But not now.

Turning the tests back, there was a flood of "YES!es" as they saw their scores.  There was celebration in the demonstration of learning. These cheers ere well deserved because my students had worked hard.  They thought about what they knew, what confused them, what they didn't know...and they did something about it to make sure they understood.  They asked questions. They came to me or a peer for help.

They were interested in their own learning.  They were taking this test for themselves, not for me.

For the few students who did not quite demonstrate mastery, they got their pencils out and began to rework their problems to find their errors.

I did not ask them to do this.

Three weeks ago, this wouldn't have happened.

This is one of the reasons I love teaching.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Let's Write -- #RefectiveTeacher Blog Challenge Day 7

Today's Topic:  What new learning has inspired you in your career?

Two summers ago, I was able to participate in the National Writing Project's Summer Institute at the UW-Milwaukee UWMWP).  Let me just say -- it changed my life!

When I went back to school to earn my teaching certification, there were certain methods courses I had to take -- reading, math, social studies, science, art...but no writing.

So as a result, when I began teaching, I had no clue how to teach writing.

My first year of teaching, we did two writing projects, both around conference time so I could show parents.  That was it.

I thought this was teaching writing.


We write every day.
We publish some writing.
We share our writing with others.
We write for fun.
We write for reflection.
We call ourselves writers.
We read our writing out loud.
We revise, revise, revise.
We read with a writer's eye.
We use mentor texts when we write.

The three weeks I spent with UWMWP turned me into a WRITING teacher.

And I am now a writer myself.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Quotables -- #ReflectiveTeacher Challenge Day 6

Today's Topic:  Share a quote or verse that has inspired you and explain why.

I am a quotation junkie.  My Pinterest board for Inspirations is approaching 900 pins.  Here is one of my favorites.

It was shared with me by one of my favorite professors when I went back to school to get my teaching certification.  I think it is an important message to share with of our students because it reinforces how important a growth mindset can be in determining our success:
(By the way, if you like the papers and clip art I used on this quote and the one at the top of this page, they came from Sweet Shoppe Designs.  The fonts are from KG Fonts.  Visit their sites!  You'll love what you see.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Grateful Strengths -- #ReflectiveTeacher Challenge Day 5

Today's Topic:  What are my strengths?  Which am I most grateful for?

These are two strengths that I am most grateful for:

1.  Management:  This is something I never really struggled with, but I'm not sure why.  In teacher prep courses, I read Harry Wong and a hoard of other management books and those tips and tricks seeped their way into my management plan without me even knowing it. Management is only an issue for the first few days of school until my new group of students and I come together as a cohesive group.

2.  Relationship Building:  I take time to get to know my students.  My students know I care about them as a person and as a student.  (Perhaps this makes the management issue easier.) I also share my life with them.  They enjoy hearing funny stories about my weekend or about something my own children did.  It makes me human to them as well.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

For Me? -- #Reflective Teacher Challenge Day 4

Today's Topic:  What was the nicest gift you have received from a student/parent/colleague?

A few years ago, one of my students came up to me on a Monday morning and handed me a paper plate covered in foil.

"We made these yesterday.  My mom wanted you to have these," he said through broken English.

Peeling back the foil, I saw six corn husk rolls lined up on the plate.

""They are tamales," he added.

I smiled and told my student how much I love tamales, but had never had homemade ones.

"My aunt comes every Sunday to make them with my mom."

As someone who loves to bake, I will often share my goodies with others as a way of saying thank you or to let them know how much I appreciate them.

Looking down, I realized that I was not just holding a plate of tamales.  I was holding a tremendous gift.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Proud Moments -- #ReflectiveTeacher Challenge Day 3

Today’s Topic:  What are you most proud of in your teaching career?

One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students become lifelong learners.  Ironically, when I became a teacher, I turned myself into a lifelong learner.

I am proud of the fact that I earned my master's degree.  That makes me not only the first person in my family to graduate from college, but the first to earn a master's.

I am proud of all the books I have read that help me be a better teacher.

I am proud of the writing that I now do on a {almost} daily basis.

I am proud to be able to use my learning to help others.

I walk the walk AND talk the talk.  

I would have never imagined....

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Small Delights - #ReflectiveTeacher Challenge Day 2

I’m participating in the November Blogging Challenge  -- Attitude of Gratitude -- at @TeachThoughtOnline

Today’s Topic:  What is one small delight in my day that I look forward to?

This one is easy...

Every morning (even weekends), I get up at 4:30 am.  No one else is awake, even the dogs. Many people tell me I am crazy for getting up this early and at a younger age, I would have agreed with them.  Now, I wouldn't give this time up for anything.

I spend the first hour of my day reading.  Sometimes I read my emails, sometimes my Twitter feed, but most often I read a book.  Here are some of my favorite reads as of late:
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When 5:30 am rolls around, it is time to get ready to go.  My hour of peace and quiet is over and I look forward to its return again tomorrow.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Best Aspects of Being a Teacher -- #ReflectiveTeacher Day 1

I’m participating in the November Blogging Challenge  -- Attitude of Gratitude -- at @TeachThoughtOnline

Today’s Topic:  What are the best aspects of being a teacher?

I remember growing up, I had two aunts who were teachers.  They would quickly tell me that the three best things about being a teacher were June, July, and August. 

As a child, I found this pretty funny. 

Now that I am a teacher, I am quick to admit that I do enjoy my summers.  

But here are some other things that I enjoy about teaching:
  • Seeing the "aha" moments in a student's eyes when they "get it".
  • Making a connection with a student who needs an adult to believe in them.
  • Learning and growing from the teachers around me.
  • Being a lifelong learner myself.
  • When a student accidentally calls me "mom".  Some teachers may get offended by this, but I take it as the highest compliment and a sign that I have made a connection with that child.
  • When a kindergartner passes me in the hallway and tells me they want me to be their 4th grade teacher.
  • When former students come back to say hello and share how awesome they are doing in middle and high school.
I could go on and on...

What are some things you enjoy about teaching?  Consider joining the November Attitude of Gratitude Challenge.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Suddenly Sunrise {SOL 10-7-14}

It's been dark and rainy for the past few days.  Not that I'm complaining.  I'm in the mood for fall, warm sweaters, and campfires so the recent burst of warm temperatures we've been having was not welcome.

Every now and then, I'm in the mood for a cool, rainy day.

The colors of fall are beginning to burst here in southeastern Wisconsin.  You could really tell this weekend. The trees are tipped in red, yellow and orange.  They know this is their last "hurrah!" before they drop their leaves and hunker down for winter.

Rainy days are to be expected as the season changes.

Yesterday morning when I left for school, the cool rain drops pelted my windshield.  I drove in almost total darkness as the dawn began to break.

Almost to school, a bright light caught my eye in my rear view mirror.  Looking back, the sun was breaking through the clouds, spreading a brilliant pink light as if to say, "I'm still here!", adding to the beauty of  fall around me.
Turns out the changing leaves are not the only thing of beauty this autumn.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Positive Thinking Thursday {10-2-14}

It has been a beautiful few weeks here in southeast Wisconsin.  The weather has been so nice that you would swear that it was still summer.  I will take each beautiful day I can get because I'm sure winter
will be here before I know it.

The zinnias in my garden are loving the warm days and cool nights.  Aren't they lovely?
When I saw this on Pinterest, I knew it would be the perfect positive thought for this time of year:
So where are you planning on soaring to soon?

Have an amazing day!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Settling In {SOL 9-16-14}

This week is our third week of school.  Although, when I stop to think about it, it could be our 30th.

I am amazed at how quickly my new students learned the routines and expectations of our classroom.  They are eager and enthusiastic learners.

To the outside observer, it seems like we've been at this forever.  Walk in my room during silent reading time and it is just that...silent while students read.  They have already built up to 30 minutes of solid reading time.  When it's time to stop, they say "Awww...." and I smile to myself at their love of reading.

I should be happy that everything is going so smoothly.

And I am.

But maybe a little part of me isn't.

You see, while my students have slipped into the routines of our classroom, I have too.  Some of these are the old routines of years past.  These routines are comfortable and familiar.  But I slowly feel them pushing out anything new I have learned that I wanted to implement in my classroom.  It's as if they are saying, "Go away, new kid.  We don't need you here.  We've got a good thing going."

And all of those new ideas are trying to turn around and retreat back to safety where nothing changes and life is easy.

But this isn't about "easy."  It's about growing, and learning, and stepping outside of my comfort zone as I try new things, possibly better things.

Old habits are hard to break, but break them I will.

It's nice to be comfortable, sitting under the tree of learning that I have created over the years.  But we all know that real growth occurs up there at the end of those branches.

Time to get my ladder...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Apple Orchard, Where Have You Been? {SOL 9-9-14}

How appropriate that today's Slice of Life is about a visit to the apple orchard where you are encouraged to sample slices of apples!

There is a very quaint apple orchard near my home. I love this place so much, I would move in there if I could.
This is not your ordinary apple orchard.  Here, the apples are already picked and waiting for you in big wooden crates.  No climbing trees or fighting with bees!
This orchard features a massive variety of heirloom apples.  Bill, the orchard's owner, is probably one of the friendliest guys you'll ever meet.  He can tell you anything you want about any apple.  I love the way he labels the crates with paper plates.  His descriptions of the apples are a perfect lesson in adjectives.  Who knew an apple's taste could be "sprightly", "zippy" or "snappy"?  (The English major in me LOVES that!) 

To make the best pie, just walk around and put one apple from every bin into your bag.  Mix them up.  You won't be sorry! The pie I made on Sunday was amazing and I'm so glad....I waited all summer for it.